U.S. in its 4th worst fire season

Posted at 9:24 PM, Sep 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-22 23:24:44-04

2015 is now the 4th worst fire season for the US in terms of total acres burned. That rank could climb with a number of active fires, mostly across the western US.

Across the country, including Alaska, there have been 47,146 total fires reported as of Tuesday. The total acreage is now 8,920,752. That’s nearly 14,000 square miles charred. This total acreage ranks below 2006 (9,873,745 acres), 2007 (9,328,045 acres), and 2012 (9,326,238).

This season could surpass these prior years. There are currently 20 large fires totaling nearly 1.5 million acres across 6 states. Of those fires, 8 are in Washington, 6 are in California, 3 in Oregon, 1 in Idaho, 1 in Montana, and 1 in Oklahoma.

California has had its, so far, 4th worst fire season on record; the number of homes lost is nearing 2,000.

In Colorado, the Gutterson Ranch fire (near Kersey) last Thursday exploded to more than 11,000 acres. This is the largest fire Colorado has had this year.

According to Lawrence Lujan in an email from the Forest Service, Colorado has had a total of 663 fires this year totaling 20,238 acres. This is far less than the most recent years. 2012 and 2013 were arguably some of our worst fire years for the state. 2012 had 6,114 fires totaling 426,406 acres and 2013 had 4,906 fires totaling 222,916 acres.

Lujan adds further national impact with these other statistics:

• Alaska has experienced one of the most active fire seasons on record with over 5 million acres burned to date.

• Fire activity increased within California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana from June - September. 

• There have been 13 interagency wildland firefighter fatalities this calendar year. Fatalities occured during a prescribed fire, wildfires and trainings.

• Resources from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. military were mobilized to support fire suppression efforts in the United States.

• Resources from the United States were also mobilized to support fire suppression efforts in Canada.

• From August 13 through September 5 (24 days) the National Preparedness Level was 5, the highest level, which means all available ground and air resources were committed to priority fires. Preparedness levels are established to identify the level of wildland fire activity, severity, and resource commitment nationally, as well as geographically.

• To date there have been 6 civilian fatalities in California.

This has been a relatively quiet fire season for the state. We benefited from a wet spring and early summer. However, drought conditions have returned since we “turned the rain off” in July and August. September has been remarkably dry too.

For Denver, 0.04” is all the rain that has been recorded in September. The last good rain, more than 0.25”, was on August 11th of 0.68”. Since that rain, we’ve only had 0.44” in those 6 weeks.

With a dry and warm outlook the rest of September, the state will continue to have a high fire danger. The fire danger is highest on northeastern plains and the northwestern corner. Grassy areas, in particular, are the biggest fire threat.

For the country, El Nino has yet to produce much appreciable rainfall for the western US. The best chances for rain are in Arizona and New Mexico, far away from the fires in northern California through the Pacific Northwest. In many cases, El Nino won’t provide rainfall/snowfall to these areas until the winter months.